MOMBASA, Kenya — The United Nations on Wednesday officially declared Somalia’s food crisis a famine in several parts of the country, with millions of people on the brink of starvation and aid deliveries complicated by the fact that Islamist militants aligned with Al Qaeda control the famine zones.
The combination of one of East Africa’s worst droughts in 60 years and Somalia’s relentless conflict has depleted the country’s food supplies, and tens of thousands of Somalis have died of malnutrition-related causes in the past few months, the United Nations said.
“If we don’t act now, famine will spread to all eight regions of southern Somalia,” said Mark Bowden, the United Nations’ humanitarian coordinator for Somalia. “Every day of delay in assistance is literally a matter of life or death.”
Speaking at the United Nations, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said that nearly half of Somalia’s population — 3.7 million people— were now in crisis. A total of $1.6 billion was needed to help, he added, with about $300 million of it required in the next two months to mount an “adequate response.”
The Islamist militants who forced Western aid organizations out of Somalia last year, right as the drought was looming, are now urging the groups to return. But aid officials are wary, citing the dozens of workers who have been killed in Somalia in recent years. Also hampering the emergency efforts, aid officials contend, are American government rules that prohibit material support to the militants, who often demand “taxes” for allowing aid deliveries to pass through.
Somalia has lurched from crisis to crisis since 1991, when the central government imploded. In 1992, the same elements of drought and war set off a famine that killed hundreds of thousands of people and started a cycle of international intervention that, despite billions of dollars and more than a dozen transitional governments, has yet to stabilize the country.
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